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Moseying merrily through our many-month marathon: New Zealand Week Ten

 

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Moseying merrily through our many-month marathon: New Zealand Week Ten
Fox Glacier to Wanaka, 272 km (total cycled to date: 2,730 km)

Even Sitka could tell we were hooped.

“We’ve already been this way, like, a thousand times,” our six-year-old groaned as we darted determinedly around a corner and into yet another dead end.
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The four of us were lost in the massive multi-storey labyrinth at Puzzling World in the outdoor paradise town of Wanaka. The challenge was to navigate the maze of wooden fences and bridges to each of four towers with coloured turrets – green, yellow, blue and red – and then find our way back out. It was Sitka’s birthday-money activity, so he was in charge of directing us. The average adult time was 30-60 minutes, and he’d found all four towers in 25. But an hour later, we were stumped in search of the elusive exit. We tried splitting up in pairs, each parent convinced that they knew the way – until we literally ran into each other at the same stupid place where we split.

Finally, the boys had to pee – granting us the excuse to use the emergency exit doors to the outside. And therein laid the conundrum: we could tap out and return home before sunset, but pride and the 44 bucks we’d spent on the damn maze urged us to re-enter where we’d got stuck, and try again. With 14 years of post-secondary education between us, surely we could conquer this kids’ puzzle – so Joce snuck back in while the kids were in the bathroom, ran the maze backwards to memorize the route out, then rallied the family to try one more go.

Within minutes of our re-entry, Joce’s secret plan to salvage the situation was foiled as she promptly forgot everything, and we were lost again. But we remained undeterred, and at last we emerged at the gift shop, two hours after our adventure began.

imageThe whole debacle – which we celebrated when we finally triumphed – was the only time we felt rushed in an otherwise splendid week meandering down the west coast and over the Southern Alps. With three months to bike the length of New Zealand, we have the glorious luxury of wiggle room – and this week we discovered we are quite ahead of schedule, allowing for days off to escape the rain or enjoy the sun, and plenty of time to stop and swat the sandflies.

imageAt beautiful Lake Paringa, we called in a half-day of cycling to bask in the warm sun at an idyllic DOC site (the cheap campgrounds run by the national Department of Conservation, always in perfect natural locations with fantastic views). The serenity was only broken by the aggressive tiny ankle biters that swarm ferociously as soon as you stop moving – so when we decided it was a great afternoon to do family haircuts (including Sitka scissoring Daddy’s), it was a scene out of Fear Factor, only itchier.

imageThe sandflies kept us on our toes all week, but they couldn’t deter us from frequent rest stops to soak in the majestic scenery. We chased waves and built driftwood tipis at picture-perfect Bruce Bay on the Tasman Sea (strangely our only sighting of the true coast on our “west coast” ride), skipped stones on the Haast River at the foot of Roaring Billy Falls, and added an inukshuk to the hundreds of impressive stone towers on the riverbed next to the Blue Pools swinging bridge. It felt like a week of endless nature play.

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imageOf course, the rains we’d evaded on the supposedly soggy coast eventually caught us – but since we had time, we spent a dry day inside at a backpackers in Haast Township, where we loaded logs into a woodstove, played cards, journaled and celebrated Ed’s admission to teachers college for September, while the sky unloaded a stunning downpour from sun-up to dusk. The next day our fresh legs took us on a stellar, long ride past our intended campground, all the way up the Haast Pass (steeper but not as long as we’d dreaded) to Cameron Flat, another sweet DOC site where our endurance paid off with a sublime view of a glacier, river valley and near-full moon. Night fell fast as we were still eating supper, with a thick cloud forming in the valley below us. But we snuggled warmly in our Canadian-grade sleeping bags, psyched for whatever was up next, and very proud of having cycled over the Southern Alps!

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It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though – at another sweet stop at a conservation area on Lake Wanaka, we were drying our dew-soaked thermarests and lunching in one of dozens of elaborate driftwood forts when a family with three teen boys drove onto the beach to collect their winter’s firewood. Soon the driftwood city was under savage attack by the hacking teenagers and their chainsaws, with tipis toppling all about. The first major meltdown of the trip ensued – both began bawling and insisting that we immediately put an end to the demolition, or at minimum help them contact DOC to stop this happening in the future. Their first campaign: today, we save the stick forts; tomorrow, the planet.

imageOur week ended with yet another act of extraordinary hospitality, when we caught up with Tour Aotearoa rider Michael at his unbelievably beautiful home in Wanaka. We slept in our own loft and ultra-comfy bed built to fit all nine of their grandchildren (after months sleeping on narrow thermarests we starfished in the world’s biggest bed) and became part of the extended family for a couple days, including his two young granddaughters on school holiday from Auckland. The boys had super-fun playmates and we made fast friends with this wonderful family, who fed us delicious vegetarian meals (which were even more scrumptious as we had been cycling on convenience store food for the last 11 days) and even baked Heron a gluten-free early-birthday cake while we were out kayaking for four glorious hours on Lake Wanaka. They didn’t even mock us when we told them how long we were lost in the local labyrinth.

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imageOur luxurious time off in Wanaka also allowed Joce a rare treat of alone time in the midst of three months sharing a tandem bike and a tent with her beloved children. After weeks of fascinating conversation about the origin of humanity and how many kilometres we have biked, it was strangely cathartic to have a soy hot chocolate and veggie lasagna alone at a café on the beach, feet up while reading a book while Ed and the boys did errands around town. Cycling together pre-boys ten years ago, such simple pleasures didn’t have quite the same cachet, now they are sublime. (Ed has since reserved his next slot of solo time to track down a showing of the latest Batman vs Superman movie).

We’re not in any rush to leave Wanaka, but we still have three weeks of New Zealand to explore, and this kids are keen to add even more Kms to our route, so we will divert to take in the famed Central Otago rail trail and soak it all in, one stop at a time.

Heron’s week 10 summary: “the Southern Alps have been crossed! Wanaka day off is my new favorite day of the whole trip!”

Sitka’s week 10 summary: “HAAAAAST PAAAASS!”

4 Comments

  1. Lucy Klein Horsman says:

    Congratulations Ed on getting into teacher’s college!! Well done!

  2. Jen says:

    Loving reading about your adventures. We are also loving the postcards that arrive at the learning centre. Spring is springing here and on Wed it is “Show what you can do in 60 seconds” at the Learning centre – we will be missing Heron and Sitka for that.
    Glad you are all well and congratulations Ed!
    Jen

  3. Mark Thomson says:

    Yay – we did the Wanaka maze, we did a corn field one the other day as well. Very fun. I have delved back into the serious commuter on the bike as my car has been down for 3 weeks and will be out for at least another week! I do enjoy the bike.

    Cool thing about the driftwood on the west coast, it will be back there in a week or so…

    Look forward to your next installment.

    Cheers Mark

  4. Karina says:

    just catching up on blog posts…you made it to week 10 without a meltdown? ahhh, i’m envious…although, your whole trip makes me envious 🙂 congrats on teacher’s college!

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